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Thursday, 1 April 2021

[Nice Dice?] Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set

When we sit down to roleplay, the one thing we invariably have in front of us is a set of dice. We have been using dice in roleplaying for as long as we have been roleplaying and just about everyone who games has their own set. They are of course tools, tools that we use to determine the outcomes of our character’s actions. Yet we come to invest our hopes and fears in our dice as we play and we place our characters in increasingly perilous situations, but this degree of investment and how it manifests varies from player to player. One player might hold on to one set of dice which he uses for every game he plays, another might build a set of dice he only uses for one character, one player might dump one set of dice and replace it with another due to poor results or character death, and another may simply collect dice. There is an amazing array of dice available in a variety of styles and materials—metals, gemstones, wood, and even moose poop. Then there are dice sets for different games. In some cases, particular dice are required to play particular games. For example, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire from Fantasy Flight Games requires its own set of dice, as does Fvlminata: Armed with Lightning with its ‘Talia’ or knucklebone dice and Free League Publishing’s ‘Year Zero Engine’ family of games such as Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days or the more recent Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying.

In most other cases, publishers manufacture dice for their roleplaying games which are absolutely not required to play their games. If such dice are not required, then what do they add? They certainly do not add to the game itself in terms of play, any more than any other set of dice a player might have in his collection. What they enforce is brand identity, so that if a player has a set of Call of Cthulhu dice when playing Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or a set of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha dice for playing RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, they add to the idea that the players are playing those games, encouraging a degree of immersion, but without adding anything directly to that play.

So, the question is, does the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set do the same for Traveller? Manufactured by Mongoose Publishing, this is a set of twenty six-sided dice, white with blue dots for the numbers on the first through fifth faces. The sixth face though is marked with the symbol of the Travellers’ Aid Society—the letters ‘TAS’ in a hexagon, a spaceship marking the counter or space at the top of the letter ‘A’. In Traveller, the Travellers’ Aid Society is a private organisation which maintains hostels and facilities at nearly all class A and B starports across Charted Space, providing its members with somewhere to stay, a regular means of travel, and information about worlds throughout known space. Membership can be purchased, but most Player Characters will receive membership as part of their mustering out benefits for meritorious or heroic conduct in service. Thus, the Travellers’ Aid Society is part of the fabric of the Traveller setting.

As much as the Travellers’ Aid Society is a part of the fabric of the Traveller setting, it not necessarily a brand identifier or icon associated with the Traveller setting or roleplaying game, whereas perhaps the Imperial Sunburst is, and is used across different institutions of the Third Imperium. Thus, black with a yellow sunburst for the Imperial Royal Family, yellow for the Imperial Navy, red for the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service, and so on. Could the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set have benefited from some variety in terms of colours and icons—perhaps those of the Third Imperium and other polities? Admittedly, that would mean that the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set would not be the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set, but a Traveller dice set. Plus, it would have made manufacturing and packaging that little bit more complex. Then there is the question of twenty six-sided dice—are that many needed? In a game like Traveller, most players will be rolling two six-sided dice at a time for skill checks and similar actions. They are going to be rolling perhaps four dice at the most to determine damage in combat, although this may increase as many to six when employing particularly heavy weapons or in starship combat. Thus, there is enough dice for a single group, perhaps consisting of a Game Master and four players with four dice each, or even more if they have fewer dice in front of them. In effect, the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set is not a dice set for a player or the Game Master, but for the group. Even so, there is still the matter of the price. The Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set has a recommended retail price of £25 ($25).

Each die in the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set has a recommended retail price of £1.25 ($1.25).

Now of course, there are costs involved in the manufacture and shipping of any product. Of course, there are. Getting the moulds cut for the dice, designing the packaging, assembling the packaging, shipping, and so on. But £1.25 ($1.25) per die? For a set of dice that is not that interesting, does not add to the play of the game, and in play does not strongly enforce the brand?

There can be no doubt that the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set is nicely packaged. It comes a in neat little box. Yet it is no more than a frippery, a collector’s item that some Traveller devotees will want to have in their collection, because it does not add a great deal to the play of the roleplaying game and it is debatable whether it adds very much to the brand because the Travellers’ Aid Society icon is not as recognisable as others in Traveller. Could it be that the Travellers’ Aid Society Dice Set is just a bit dull and just a bit too expensive?

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